After the steer is slaughtered, it is cut into four
pieces (called quarters) for easy handling. This is done by first
splitting the carcass down the backbone into two bilateral halves. Each
half is divided into the forequarter (the front portion) and hindquarter
(the rear portion) by cutting along the natural curvature between the
12th and 13th ribs.
The quartered carcass is then further reduced into the
primal cuts and the sub primal and fabricated cuts. The primal cuts of
beef are the chuck, brisket and shank, rib, short plate, short loin,
sirloin, flank and round. It is important to know the location of bones
when cutting or working with meats. This makes meat fabrication and
carving easier and aids in identifying cuts. An entire beef carcass can
range in weight from 500 to more than 800 pounds (225-360 kg).
Most beef comes from steers (young castrated males) that
are about 18 months old.
The toughest cuts come from the lower legs
(shin), shoulders, flanks, neck and tail. The most tender cuts come from
the hindquarter and from the ribs and sirloin.
1. Neck or Clod
Comes mainly from around the neck and shoulder , nowadays probably
labelled ‘stewing steak. It can be used for mince that is going to be
slow cooked such as in Spaghetti Bolognese or something similar.
2. Back Ribs
There is less meat in the back ribs than in the fore ribs and it is
tougher. A good quality animal can produce a good roasting joint
particularly if the meat is well hung.
3. Fore ribs
These are the source of lean meat and a single rib makes a good portion
for two people. A larger piece from an animal that has been well hung
makes an excellent and traditional roasting joint. It should be cooked
on the bone. Boned rib roast may be known as rib eye, and rib steaks are
also known as rib eye steaks, or as entrecote (from the French ‘between
the ribs’) steaks
4. Chuck steak
This is the meat taken from around the shoulder blade. It is often sold
cubed, for stews and casseroles. Larger pieces of chuck steak may be
used for daubes and stews. Or it can be minced and used as for neck.
The loin, stretching from the ribs almost to the end of back produces
many tender cuts. Underneath it lies the tenderloin or fillet. It starts
at the wing rib running backwards through the fillet and ending in the
sirloin. In Britain, the whole loin section is called sirloin and is
most commonly divided into roasts; the best sirloin roasts include part
of the tenderloin. The tenderloin can be roasted whole or cut into
tournedos and smaller filet mignon steaks. From the centre of the
tenderloin comes the Chateaubriand, a small roast that serves two
people. You will have heard of filet en croute, or Beef Wellington, in
which this joint is wrapped in puff pastry with pâté, foie gras, or
Thus the sirloin includes:
5a. Wing Rib
This joint comprises the last three ribs at the front of the sirloin,
i.e. those that in man would be the lowest three ribs
5b. Sirloin Joint
This is a joint from the hindquarter end of the sirloin (a T bone steak
as would be cut from this area). The advantage of this cut is that it
retains and absorbs flavour from the bone.
A 'chop' cut from the wing rib end of the sirloin or the tail end of the
fore ribs, is traditionally known as a porterhouse steak.
5c. Sirloin Steak
This is the eye of the sirloin which is both little and a probably
tastier than the fillet, it is almost as tender, and should be roasted
fast and served pink.
5d. T Bone Steak
This is a cross-section of the unfilleted sirloin.
5e. Fillet (undercut)
There is very little fillet in one animal that is why it is expensive.
Fillet should be very tender, especially from a well-hung carcass. It
can have less flavour than other cuts and suffers badly if overcooked.
Frying, grilling and quick roasting (of a whole or large piece) are all
appropriate cooking methods.
5f. Fillet Steak
Steaks cut from the fillet, which also produces fillets mignon from its
narrower end and Chateaubriand, a larger joint from the thicker centre
of the fillet.
6. Rump Steak
Is considerably cheaper than fillet steak and also tastier and chewier
but can sometimes be not very tasty and too tough. It is suitable for
frying, grilling and barbecuing, in thickish slices. A really good
quality piece of rump can be roasted quickly and served rare. The meat
from the lower muscle of the rump is rather tougher. Good, well-hung
rump steak makes the best steak tartare.
7. Topside, Silverside and Top Rump
This is the long, inner muscle of the cow's thigh. It is a little more
tender than silverside, and can be used for roasting but should be
cooked slowly. It responds well to braising and is tasty as a cold
joint. Thickly sliced and cut into strips, topside is perfect for quick
marinating and flash frying.
Cut from the back of the thigh, it is tougher than topside. It is best
used for pot roasts or stews and responds well to marinating.
7c. Top Rump / Thick Flank
This cut from just above the leg produces a tough joint but it can be
used for marinating and flash frying or stir frying, or minced for
burgers and slow cooked daubes and casseroles. It is also used to make
usually divided into short lengths by cutting between the tail
vertebrae. Long slow cooking produces tasty meat which falls off the
bone and is accompanied by unctuous gravy.
This is from the top of the back leg. It is tough and lean requiring
long slow cooking. The leg is also known as the hock. Leg meat is at its
best when braised, pot roasted, or stewed slowly with plenty of
flavourings to make a rich sauce. Alternatively, the meat may be sliced
thinly, stuffed and braised as beef rolls, or used for minced beef.
10. Hind Shin
The classic marrowbone is the whole shinbone that is usually used for
making beef stock and consommé. After simmering for an hour or so the
marrow can be scraped out and eaten on toast.
11. Hindquarter flank
This is the below the sirloin and behind the ribs. It is has no bones,
it is cheap, fatty, but delicious if cooked slowly. It is also used for
The term skirt refers to a group of several muscles from the inside of
the animal. The biggest piece of skirt, sometimes called goose skirt,
comes from the inside of the flank. Another piece comes from just under
the skin of the inner thigh. It is tough, but lean and tasty, and so
generally requires long, slow cooking. One of its classic uses is in
steak and kidney pies and puddings. If you trim and mince it finely it
can be used to make burgers, it is also used for Pastrami and corned
13. Forequarter Flank / Short Ribs
This is similar to the hindquarter flank except that it has ribs in it.
The ‘short ribs’ are the rack of ribs taken from this area.
The top of the foreleg of an animal, this is a bargain cut and needs to
be cooked very slowly, perhaps in wine. On the bone, it can be braised,
off the bone it makes excellent stew. This can be mixed with leg of beef
for stewing. Be careful of ‘stewing steak’ when you do not know the
mixture of meat that has gone into it as not all cuts take the same
length of time to cook – this could be a problem with ‘pre-packaged’
stewing steak which could be made up of assorted cuts that were
approaching there ‘best before ‘ dates.
The part of the shin of beef near the feet contains the toughest meat in
the animal (as does hind shin), though they are lean with plenty of
taste. The fore shin is more fleshy than the hind shin.
A cut from further up the ribcage, it may or may not have the breastbone
still attached, it is marginally leaner than flank but still pretty
fatty. It is the used for salting. It can be good boiled, is a useful
inexpensive cut for simple dishes such as pot-au-feu. The section nearer
the skirt is more meaty and can be braised or pot roasted. It requires
slow, moist cooking. It is often salted or cured for corned beef
16. Leg Top
Meat from here is too tough for fast cooking and is usually sold as
should be bright red in colour
should be marbling of fat through the meat
should be firm and brittle in texture
should be white in colour
should be no smell